June 3, 2011 — -- The germs of summer are out in full force, hiding in picnic food, pools and public bathrooms. Bacteria thrive in the season's swelter, and the infections they spark can cast a dark shadow on a sunny day. But a little caution can help keep summer safe and sanitary.
Don't Spoil Your Dinner
Cooking and eating outside can be fun. But bacteria flourish in food that's undercooked and flock to fare that has been sitting out in the sun. So be prepared to cook meat thoroughly and keep creamy sides cool.
Heat Things Up
To kill food-borne bacteria such as E. coli and salmonella, the U.S. Department of Agriculture recommends cooking cuts of meat to an internal temperature of 145 degrees and waiting at least three minutes before digging in. Ground meat should reach 160 degrees, 165 degrees for poultry. Keep meat hot until it's time to eat, and don't let it sit out for more than two hours; one hour if it's hotter than 90 degrees out.
Keep It Cool
Summer staples such as like potato salad and coleslaw can turn a picnic sour if they get too warm. Use ice or frozen gel packs to keep cold food below 40 degrees until it's time to eat. And once it's served, don't let it sit out for more than two hours; one hour if it's hotter than 90 degrees out.
Keep Cuts Under Wraps
Summer is bound to bring scrapes. Clean out a cut with clean water and quickly cover it with a bandage, said Dr. William Schaffner, chair of preventive medicine at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Tenn. If the bandage gets wet, take it off and dry the skin before replacing it with a fresh one. And check to see whether the skin around the scrape is red or puffy, signs that it might be infected.
"If an infection does occur, that's a time to call your doctor because it could be a staph infection," Schaffner said, "and you'll want to get that treated right away."
Throw in the Towel
Bacteria love dark, damp places, rolled up beach towels included.
"There have been outbreaks of MRSA infections associated with, how shall we say, 'casual hygienic practices,'" Schaffner said.
Between dips, hang towels and swim trunks up so they can dry thoroughly. And don't forget to launder them. Getting wet is not the same as getting washed.
"Start out the next beach trip with a clean towel," Schaffner said.
Be Prepared for Public Bathrooms
Busy parks and beaches mean heavy traffic through public bathrooms. Be prepared for an empty toilet paper roll or a dearth of paper towels, Schaffner said, and bring along hand sanitizer and some tissue.
Take Care of Bites, Burns
Whether it's a mosquito bite or blistering sunburn, itchy skin is bacteria's ticket from fingernails into fragile skin. Avoid the urge to scratch though, Schaffner said, which can cause a break in the skin.
"If it does get infected, and it looks nasty, call your doctor right away," he said.
Other Summer Safety Tips
Stay protected from the sun and the heat by wearing sunscreen and staying hydrated. And be careful around water. About 10 people die each day from unintentional drowning, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, making it the sixth leading cause of unintentional injury death.